This newest mystery featuring Mitch Berger and Connecticut State Trooper Des Mitry presents Des with her first genuine racially charged case in the historic New England village of Dorset, the gem of Connecticut's Gold Coast.
Tyrone "Da Beast" Grantham, the famously volatile NFL superstar linebacker, has just been suspended for "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the league." When Tyrone and his entourage decide to spend his season in exile in bucolic Dorset---much to the dismay of his early-to-bed, ultra-white neighbors---Des is put on the spot. And when Tyrone's eighteen-year-old sister-in-law, Kinitra, washes up on Mitch's beach one morning, bloodied and barely alive, Des is on the case. Especially when it turns out that Kinitra is eight weeks pregnant. Good thing there's nothing else serious going on in our heroes' lives right now. Like, say, Mitch's parents arriving from Florida at long last to meet the new woman of color in their nice Jewish boy's life.
The Blood Red Indian Summer makes a fine and entertaining addition to David Handler's award-winning, critically-acclaimed series.
About the Author
David Handler's first book in the Berger and Mitry series, The Cold Blue Blood, was a Dilys Award finalist and BookSense Top Ten pick. David is also the author of several novels about the witty and dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his faithful, neurotic basset hound, Lulu, including Edgar and American Mystery Award winner The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald. David lives in a two-hundred-year-old carriage house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
When she heard the floorboard creak outside her bedroom door, Des dove for the loaded SIG under her pillow, instantly awake. A prowler. A prowler had broken into the house. It was 4:02 A.M. according to her digital bedside clock.
"Coffee's ready, Desiree," a voice called to her through the door.
It wasn't any prowler. It was the ghost of Buck Mitry.
Des stashed her weapon back under the pillow, breathing in and out. She'd slept with it there for years. Felt safe with it there. Happiness was a warm gun. But she'd have to lock it away from now on because she did not, repeat not, wish to blow his fool head off. It merely felt that way sometimes.
"Desiree, are you up?"
"I am now, Daddy." She flicked on her bedside light and fumbled for her heavy horn-rimmed glasses. Reached for the covers that she'd thrown off in the night and pulled them over her. Her room was warm even with the windows wide open. It was freakishly balmy for late October. An official Indian summer, the weathermen were calling it. "Come on in."
Buck Mitry came on in. He wore a fleece-lined jacket over a V-neck wool sweater, plaid shirt and wool slacks. He was always cold these days, no matter the temperature. He'd lost weight since the surgery. The lines in his face were deeper and made him look ten years older to her.
"Daddy, it's four o'clock in the morning."
"You said you wanted to get up early. But if you'd rather sleep ..."
"No, this is great. We'll have a chance to sit and chat for three hours until the sun comes up."
His lower lip began to quiver. "I-I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry. It's fine, really. I'll be up in a sec, Daddy."
Not that this meek stranger was her daddy. Her daddy was deputy superintendent of the Connecticut State Police — the highest-ranking black man in the history of the state. A fierce, six-foot-four-inch hard-ass known as the Deacon. The Deacon was feared by everyone. Including his only child, who was the resident trooper of bucolic Dorset, the historic jewel of Connecticut's Gold Coast. He was staying with her while he recuperated from quadruple bypass surgery. Doing real well physically. Getting his appetite and stamina back. His cardiologist felt he'd be ready to resume a light office schedule in another ten days. There was only one problem: He'd undergone such a radical personality transplant that Des hardly knew him. The Deacon she knew was strong-willed and demanding, a tower of strength. This Deacon was hesitant, emotionally fragile and listless. He didn't do a thing all day long. Didn't sleep at night. Mostly, he just stared at the television. He'd lost his edge. And if he went back to work in this condition his enemies inside of the Waterbury Mafia would kick his butt around the block.
Des wanted the old Deacon back. True, the old Deacon could make her crazy. But at least he was the Deacon who she'd always known and loved. This one was a stranger.
She padded naked into her bathroom and splashed some cold water on her face, gazing at herself in the mirror. She was an inch over six feet tall, long-legged, high-rumped and, these days, all ribs and hip bones. She'd lost six pounds in the past two weeks. That was her thing. When she was stressed she stopped eating. She returned to her room and put on a cropped T-shirt and gym shorts, her stomach in knots. There was that ghost out there prowling her halls. There was the "urgent" work thing that First Selectman Bob Paffin, an all-around dick, had insisted she attend this morning at eight o'clock. And then there was the situation with the man in her life. A biggie that practically had her jumping out of her skin.
Her cottage overlooking Uncas Lake was airy and open. She'd torn down several walls so that the living room, dining room and kitchen were all one big room. Ordinarily, she shared the place with Bella Tillis, the seventy-eight-year-old Jewish grandmother and fellow cat rescuer who'd been her neighbor back in Woodbridge when Des's husband, Brandon, had left her. Bella was out on the West Coast for the month, attending the weddings of two of her nine grandchildren.
The coffee smelled good. The Deacon liked it strong and black. Her three live-in cats, Christie Love, Missy Elliot and Kid Rock, were noses down in their kibble bowls, thrilled that someone, anyone, was up this early. He poured her a cup, the mug practically disappearing in his hand. The Deacon had the hugest hands she'd ever seen on any man. He'd played first base in the Cleveland Indians organization before he'd joined the state police.
She went out onto the deck and sipped the coffee, gazing out at the blackness of the lake below. The air felt soft and muggy. It was supposed to hit ninety today. The Deacon sat down in one of the Adirondack chairs out there. Kid Rock immediately jumped into his lap and began kneading the Deacon's stomach with his paws. The Deacon stroked him, sipping his coffee in stony silence.
"Are you going to repair that section of railing for me today?"
"If I have time," he answered in a distant voice.
"You carpenters sure are hard to pin down. What are you going to do?"
"Same thing I did yesterday — sit here with my buddy and wonder what the point is."
"The point of what, Daddy?"
Des felt her stomach clenching. "Have you thought about talking to that therapist your cardiologist recommended?"
He made a face. "I don't deal with shrinks."
"Maybe you should try. He said it's real common for people to feel a sense of letdown after this surgery. Nothing to be ashamed of."
"I'm not ashamed, Desiree. And I don't need any help."
"We all need help sometimes."
"I'm done talking about this. I'm fine."
"Sure you are," she snapped. "We're all fine. The whole fucking world's fine."
"Watch your mouth, young lady," he warned her, flaring slightly.
She let out a gasp. "Well, how about that? I finally got a rise out of you. Maybe I ought to start dropping F-bombs more often."
Instead, she went back inside the house before she totally lost it. Since she was up so nice and early she thought about spending some quality time with her sketchpad and a hunk of graphite stick. She'd been neglecting her portraits of murder victims lately. But she just couldn't seem to focus on shapes and shadows while the ghost of Buck Mitry was skulking around the place. Instead, she went down to the gym in her garage and did three punishing circuits of twenty-four reps each with twenty-pound dumbbells until her muscles were popping and the sweat was pouring from her. Then she showered and got herself ready for work, which took her almost no time. Des kept her hair short and nubby and never wore war paint on the job. Rarely wore it, period. Didn't need it. She had almond-shaped light green eyes, a smooth, glowing complexion and a wraparound smile that, in Mitch's words, made Julia Roberts look like ZaSu Pitts. Whoever the hell ZaSu Pitts was. Des dressed in a summer-weight poly/wool blend uniform. Her necktie was the same shade of royal blue as the epaulets on her slate gray shirt. Her high gloss square-toed oxfords were black. So was the Sam Browne duty belt on which she holstered her SIG. Her big gray hat with its band of royal blue and gold waited for her on a table by the front door.
The Deacon was sitting right where she'd left him, his eyes on the water, Kid Rock dozing contentedly in his lap.
"I'm heading out now, Daddy. Have yourself a good one, okay?" He said nothing in response. Didn't so much as nod.
Des wasn't even sure that he'd heard her.
Turkey Neck Road was one of Dorset's choicest spots — a bucolic country lane of rolling green meadows and gnarly old trees set behind fieldstone walls that were centuries old. Long, winding driveways led to multimillion-dollar estates that looked out onto the mouth of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Many of the estates had private docks. Turkey Neck was a slice of Yankee heaven. Incredibly peaceful.
Or it used to be. Des ran smack dab into the freak show as soon as she steered her silver Crown Vic off of Old Shore Road. Satellite trucks and news vans lined both sides of Turkey Neck. Camera crews from Connecticut's local news stations, from ESPN and from a dozen assorted cable news networks and tabloid TV shows were crowded around the security gate outside one of those long driveways, along with a wolf pack of paparazzi, print reporters and celebrity gawkers. The gate was new. So was the eight-foot chain link fence topped with razor wire that surrounded the entire twelve-acre estate. A trooper from Troop F barracks in Westbrook was trying to keep the traffic moving along. Another was guarding the gate. The troopers were there at the request of First Selectman Paffin.
Des idled there in the standstill traffic with her windows rolled down, a tropical breeze wafting gently off the water. It was so warm out that it was hard to believe the pro football season was already half over. And what an unusual season this was for Tyrone "Da Beast" Grantham, the famously volatile superstar linebacker who'd been wreaking havoc on the gridiron ever since he was a fifteen-year-old gangbanger back in the mean streets of Compton, California. Da Beast, a six-feet-four, 240-pound meat-seeking missile, was the most dominant, fearsome middle linebacker in the National Football League. A perennial Pro Bowler who last year, at age twenty-nine, had signed a seven-year, $135-million contract extension that made him the NFL's highest paid defensive player.
Truly, the man had it all — including a boatload of personal baggage. Tyrone Grantham had a history of violent personal conduct dating back to his freshman year at USC. He'd gotten into highly publicized physical brawls over the years with not only his teammates and coaches but with any number of adoring fans — in bars, airports, parking lots, wherever they found him. He'd been placed on probation so many times that he'd entered the language of the street: Getting probation was known as getting "Beasted." During his rookie year in the NFL, a New Orleans cocktail waitress had charged him with sexually assaulting her in his hotel room. The charge was later dropped after an undisclosed sum changed hands, but another woman soon lodged a similar complaint against him at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Da Beast was ordered to undergo anger management counseling. He did. It didn't help. The man didn't just have anger issues. He had alcohol issues, as in a pair of DWI arrests. He had illegal drug issues — marijuana was found in his car both times he was nailed for drunk driving. He had problems keeping his mouth shut. His frequent on-air interviews and tweets were inflammatory and profane. He had problems with the low-life male company he kept. During a routine traffic stop an unlicensed handgun was found in a friend's car that Da Beast was riding in. The friend was a convicted felon. As for female company, he'd fathered six young children with five different baby mamas, none of whom he was married to.
And then came this past off-season, when Tyrone Grantham had gotten into it with a 150-pound computer programmer named Stewart Plotka at a Dave & Buster's restaurant in Westbury, Long Island. Supposedly, Plotka, a resident of Forest Hills, Queens, was now permanently blind in one eye and had lost the use of his right hand. Da Beast had escaped criminal assault charges — no witnesses had come forth to back Plotka's version of what happened. But he still faced a mammoth civil suit from Plotka, who was claiming that Grantham had "defiled" his fiancée, a nursing student named Katie O'Brien, at a celebrity pro-am golf tournament in 2008. Plotka had hired himself New York City's heaviest hitting limelight lawyer, Andrea Halperin. Not a day went by when she wasn't turning up the heat to pressure Tyrone Grantham into a seven-figure settlement. Thus far, he had stubbornly refused.
Seemingly, Da Beast didn't care about anyone or anything. But an image-conscious NFL did. Already reeling from the unsavory behavior of the likes of Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Ben Roethlisberger, the league decided it could no longer afford to look the other way — especially because Grantham played for one of the New York area's two very high-profile teams. And so the commissioner had suspended him from league play for the entire season due to "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the league." It was a season in exile that, in the view of Da Beast's critics, was long overdue. According to his lawyer, the "chastened" football star intended to use this time off to demonstrate to his fans that he really, truly understood the responsibilities of being a modern-day sports celebrity. Da Beast was going to get his act together.
Except he'd chosen to get it together in an ultramodern, eight-bedroom estate right here on Turkey Neck Road in Dorset, much to the dismay of his straight-laced, early to bed and early to white neighbors. Neighbors who cherished privacy and quiet and were immensely displeased by the media horde that had invaded their happy, privileged home. Grantham had said all of the right things when he'd moved in two weeks ago with his new bride, Jamella, who was currently seven months pregnant with his baby. He said he'd turned over a new leaf. He said he wanted to be left in peace.
But his new neighbors were not happy. Especially the conservative blowhard in the house just past his on Turkey Neck — Justy Bond, proud owner of Bond's Auto Mall across the river in Old Saybrook, which was Connecticut's highest-volume GM dealership, not to mention Toyota, BMW and Volvo. It was Justy Bond whom Bob Paffin had asked Des to speak with this morning. She couldn't miss the man as she inched past the media crush and pulled into the driveway of his rambling, circa-1820 natural-shingled cape. The auto dealer was standing out on his front lawn hollering his head off at the snowy haired, weak-chinned Paffin, who'd been first selectman for twenty-four years and wouldn't know how to get or hold a real job if his life depended on it. Des and Bob were not exactly close. Bob was a malevolent noodge who'd done nothing but disrespect her and undermine her from her first day on the job. Right now, he was trying to placate Justy, who was a big-time local celebrity thanks to those grating commercials of his that ran 24/7 on the local TV stations. Justy starred in them personally, always accompanied by a young, scantily clad "Bond Girl" who'd vamp for the camera and repeat his famous slogan: Just ask Justy.
Justy Bond was accustomed to getting his way. And if he was pissed off, then Bob Paffin was supposed to do something about it. Just ask Justy.
Des parked her cruiser and got out. Justy immediately started across the lawn toward her with a big, bright smile on his face — a car dealer through and through. He was a tall, handsome one in his mid-fifties who was trying way hard to come off as boyish in his yellow Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, khaki slacks and Top-Siders. The man's thinning black hair was artfully poofed. His shoulders were thrust back, tummy pulled in. It was, Des supposed, what came from having a hot new trophy wife like Bonita, a former Bond Girl who was twenty years younger than Justy. And had broken up his first marriage, according to local lore. Once she became Mrs. Justy Bond, Bonita relinquished her on-camera role to a former Syracuse cheerleader named Darlene Franklin. Darlene had lasted only a few months before she'd been replaced by Callie Kreutzer, an art student at the Dorset Academy, who happened to be the girlfriend of Justy Junior — or June as he was known. June, age twenty-four, worked for his dad as a salesman.
"Glad you could make it, Master Sergeant Mitry!" Justy's dazzling white smile went all of the way up to his eyes, where it died a sudden death. "I appreciate you making time for me."
"Yes, very good of you, Des," Bob Paffin concurred, baring his own mouthful of dull, yellow teeth. The Dorset old guard didn't whiten. She had no idea why. Just knew it was so.
Justy led them around to the backyard on a bluestone path. There was a swimming pool back there, a patio with a lot of teak furniture and an acre or so of lawn leading down to the water, where a thirty-two-foot Coronado, the Calliope, was tied up at Justy's dock. A tanned, shaggy-haired young man in swim trunks was scrubbing the sailboat's deck. Des waved to June Bond. He waved back. She and Mitch had socialized with June and Callie. Mitch knew Callie's mom and had helped Callie find a place to live when she'd enrolled at the academy.
Excerpted from "The Blood Red Indian Summer"
Copyright © 2011 David Handler.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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